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Shameless Recap: Ginger Faker

The Gallaghers are hooking up, but because of that family's peculiar mix of hormones, self-destructiveness, and chaos, the course of love does not run smoothly. It's Shameless's third week and we're getting into its grove. Frank will do heinous things, comic in their grand selfishness (last Christmas he stole a Salvation Army kettle). Fiona’s big brown "Precious Moments" eyes will focus with love on her children and skepticism on men. There will be some scam, a chase, a need for money. And Lip and Ian will cut through it all with a naturalistic grace that makes them, already, perhaps the most believable siblings on TV. The emerging formula of the series should make it less interesting to watch, but the opposite's the case — we're waiting to see what Frank will get into this time. (He doesn’t disappoint.)

At the start, Fiona has agreed to a date to the “Coach of the Year” benefit with straight-arrow cop Tony. It appears to have gone well because the first we see of them she’s riding him in the front seat of his cop car. But the school event lets out, spilling interrupting children on to the sidewalk who beg Tony to turn on the siren. It’s a nice moment: As Fiona laughs, we see, for all the stress she’s under, she’s actually happiest surrounded by children. As Tony later presses her in front of her house on whether or not Steve is gone for good, a frantic, redheaded teen bursts out of the front door. “Why is Mandy Milkovich crying?” Fiona calls out, furiously. (One of the nice things about Shameless is that it’s clear everybody knows everybody and that this Chicago neighborhood is every bit as insular as a small town.)

Mandy has a thing for Ian, her “knight in shining armor” after he’s tripped a teacher who was giving her a hard time. Ian’s in love with Kash, and not exactly eager to come out of the closet. So somehow he’s ended up on the Gallagher family couch with a girl who pulls out a roll of condoms and, seconds later, runs from the home weeping at his rejection.

The next morning, the heat is shut off and Fiona gets four visitors, each more trouble, emotional or otherwise, than the last. Steve comes calling on some pretext of seeing Lip. He sees that Tony has sent a tastefully small bouquet of roses and is miffed that Fiona has moved on instantaneously. (She hasn’t. We see her perk up considerably when he shows up.) Frank comes to steal the family’s food for his new family, playing Ward Cleaver breadwinner to Joan Cusack's wacky-as-a-wombat June. And Tony comes to tell Fiona that he was a virgin before their car coitus. It later comes out that she’s a few lovers ahead of him — Fiona jokes (we hope) with Veronica that there were 94. Worst of all, Abby from the Inspector General’s office comes to the house to meet Aunt Ginger. It turns out she died a dozen years ago, snorting coke. Frank buried her in the backyard and he’s been cashing her Social Security checks ever since. (See, we told you he didn’t disappoint.)

So the Gallaghers need to find a substitute Aunt Ginger, and fast, as Abby’s coming back the following day with the feds. Frank first tries the Salvation Army where, no surprise, he’s now banned. He says, thoughtfully, “I’m willing to put this whole thing behind us if you’ll just let me borrow an old lady for a few hours.” No luck. So the Gallaghers are off to the old age home to go shopping for a daft old bat who can be convinced she’s Ginger. They succeed admirably, with a lovely old woman who makes eggs Benedict through a senior-moment haze and instructs a delighted Debbie on the ways of the world, including her sexual liaison with Cab Calloway. Abby, furious but beaten, slinks off when confronted with the “proof” of an Aunt Ginger (the family has even staged birthday photos).

With a heartbroken Debbie (an entirely believable Emma Kenney) weeping her heart out, they return Ginger to the home. There’s more heartbreak ahead — for Tony, as Fiona’s a no-show at the dinner with his mom he’s invited her to. For Cusack’s Sheila Jackson, an agoraphobic, as she stands weeping in her front door as yet another attempt to leave her house fails. For Kash, as he explains to Ian the sadness of living a double life.

But Ian, happily, makes a friend. Telling Mandy Milkovich he’s gay, she agrees, with some relief, to having him play her boyfriend (shades of Easy A). And, as for Fiona, she puts on a slinky black dress and sparkly earrings, and heads to the garage where Steve is likely busy filing off vehicle identification numbers on cars he’s stolen. As he glimpses her in her getup, he smiles. She’s back.

Photo: Showtime